O’Meara VC honoured in Lorrha on this day in 1916

On 24 November 1916 Private Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was honoured at a well-attended ceremony at Lorrha, his home village in County Tipperaary in Ireland. Except, however, that he wasn’t actually present to be honoured.

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The Kings County Chronicle reported that:

The little village of Lorrha in North Tipperary was en fete last Friday on the occasion of the presentation to Martin O’Meara, V.C., who hails from the district. By motor car, by brake, by side car, by cycle, and by foot came hundreds of people to testify their pride in the bravery displayed by the gallant North Tipperary man. A platform was erected in a ball alley by the side of a venerable old abbey. Gaily decorated poles with the Union Jack and the Shamrock added a bright appearance to the scene. Fortunately the weather was sunny and bright if a trifle windy.

The ceremony started at 1.00pm. The list of attendees included a broad cross section of the notable personalities from King’s County (no Offaly) and County Tipperary, as well as Meara’s brothers (presumably Thomas, Hugh and John O’Meara), his sister Alice, and his cousin John O’Meara (‘better known as Doctor’, according to the Kings County Chronicle) who made a brief speech.

Another newspaper account noted that ‘a very large gathering’ saw his sister Alice O’Meara presented with a ‘valuable gold watch.’ Alice received the watch on behalf of her brother who had left Ireland by this time and was in England. This watch is now missing.

We do not know exactly why Martin O’Meara did not attend the ceremony. It is possible that he did not want all the attention, or perhaps he was uncomfortable with being involved in what was, more or less, a recruitment rally for the British Army. He was a devout Roman Catholic and nationalist political views, even if he was not a Sinn Féin supporter.

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These factors in tandem suggest a tendency towards uneasiness about being publicly identified with the British Army.

Previous Irish Victoria Cross winners had been regarded with contempt by some of the more radical nationalists; Michael O’Leary VC, of County Cork, had addressed several meetings in Ireland during 1915 and received a mixed reception:
They brought Michael O’Leary, who had won the Victoria Cross, to one of their recruiting meetings but we gave them a bad reception by continuously boohing, shouting and singing rebel songs.

This story forms part of my biography of Martin O’Meara which is now available at bookshops in Perth and Canberra, and online. This biography provides an account of Martin O’Meara’s life from his birth in County Tipperary in 1885 to his death at the Claremont Mental Hospital in Perth, Western Australia, in 1935.

Martin O’Meara VC arrives back in Australia on this day in 1918

Martin O’Meara arrived at Fremantle on the transport ship Arawa on the morning of 6 November 1918, but the possibility of influenza infection amongst the passengers resulted in Western Australia-bound passengers being transferred by boat on 7 November 1918 to the Woodman’s Point Quarantine Station, 9km south of Perth, for a seven-day quarantine period.

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The Arawa pictured at Melbourne in late 1918.

Martin O’Meara was returning to Australia at the request of the Government to assist with recruiting efforts. He hadn’t wanted to return, but seemed to have done so out of a sense of duty and obedience.

The admission registers for the quarantine station record that eight officers and 117 soldiers were admitted for ‘suspected influenza.’There had been an outbreak of influenza on board the Arawa during the voyage: ‘An epidemic of influenza broke out amongst the crew immediately after leaving England. Precautions were taken to prevent spread of disease, and although influenza broke out amongst the troops, it was quickly stamped out.’

The men were quarantined despite the AIF Medical Officers on board the Arawa advising that there were no longer any cases of influenza aboard.392 A contemporary newspaper report noted that five of the men were admitted to the quarantine station’s hospital, one with a suspected case of influenza and four with ‘other complaints’ on 7 November 1918, but that some of the men had already been discharged by 9 November 1919.

Martin O’Meara remained at Woodman Point until 13 November 1918. More information about what actually happened to Martin O’Meara during and after his time at Woodman Point is available in my biography of him.